I recently attended a sales conference during which a speaker recommended gorilla-style dominant posturing in front of the mirror before a sales meeting in order to get testosterone flowing. This reminded me of Steve Coogan’s memorable 1990s comic creation salesman Gareth Cheeseman who would shout “You’re a tiger!” at his reflection in the mirror.
While a lot of motivational speakers advocate this type of pumping up – and while it may work for some people – the science suggests that it doesn’t work, particularly for those that need it most. I recently came across a paper published in Psychological Science by Joanne Wood, Elaine Perumovic and John Lee with the pithy title: “Positive Statements. Power for Some, Peril for Others. I won’t attempt to summarise the paper but it found positive self-statements helped improve self-esteem to a limited agree for those for whom it was already high. For those with low self-esteem, positive self-statements made things worse.
Shouting at yourself in the mirror is ultimately empty positive thinking. It can indeed make things work because if what you tell yourself contradicts your beliefs, your “inner chimp” (to use Steve Peters language) leaps on the disconnect and starts shouting back. What’s needed instead is a science-based approach and fortunately, these are available in the form of learned optimism and Acceptance & Commitment Training or ACT.